"So, this is your first Castlevania for the Gameboy Advance?"

Short and sweet and to the point,Castlevania : Aria of Sorrow is a game that you MUST have for your Gameboy Advance library...even if you don't own a Gameboy Advance(Two words can remedy THAT situation, if you own a Gamecube :  Gameboy Player). This happened to be my first Castlevania for the Advance system, and I wasn't sure how the gameplay was going to be -- would it be the newer action-RPG approach (Symphony of the Night) or the classic super-tough platformer that I have grown up with? (Castlevania III, IV, Chronicles, etc).

This game follows the same approach as Symphony of the Night -- with a bit of Metroid flavor,some traditional RPG elements, but with the same classic 2D perspective. 

For fans of Symphony of the Night (myself included) this adventure isn't that much different -- which is GREAT! This game will keep you hooked until the very end, and you WILL come back for more. I guarantee it.

However, my use of the term ''RPG'' above should be taken lightly -- as the biggest problem with this game is too little plot...or maybe I should say a shoddy plot. When Castlevania was strictly a platformer, a lack of plot within the game could be forgiven. But as an action-RPG of sorts, in the same vein as Metroid, there should be much more plot -- and it should be sensible and intriguing to boot. In Aria of Sorrow events just seem rushed for some reason -- when you run into an NPC, whether that be after a boss fight, or just walking through the castle, the plot segments rarely consume more than a minute of time. This can partially be blamed on the main character, Soma Cruz. Soma,eerily enough, reminded me of no other than Raiden from Metal Gear Solid 2, with his naive perspective,his blond/white hair and his (for the most part) useless girlfriend,Mina, who you had to check in with periodically for encouraging words and minor arguments (it just screams ''Rose'' ALL over again). And to top it all off, including characters such as Genya Arikado (you'll meet him in the game,obviously) just makes you wish you could actually play as HIM -- after all, he actually knows whats going on, he's handsome and he's in with the ''good guys''. In other words, it's like having Pliskin in MGS2 -- he's there to rub in the fact that you can't actually PLAY as him, he's only there for plot.

However, in Aria of Sorrow, once you've beaten the game,you CAN play as a Belmont, just like you could in Symphony of the Night -- fans of the ''limp whip'' rejoice! Also, in ''Belmont mode'' the game reverts back to its more platformer roots with most of the RPG elements taken out -- basically no leveling, equipment,etc. So, in all truth, all is not lost even for the old-school Castlevania fans out there.

Now that all of the complaints are out of the way it's time to talk about the gameplay. This game makes up for the somewhat ridiculous (and I say this about a Castlevania game mind you) plot with some of the most solid gameplay you may ever experience on any system. The ability system -- which allows you to collect souls from your enemies and use them to better your stats, give you different moves,shoot projectiles,etc -- is the main meat of this game. You collect souls just by beating your enemies in combat -- but sadly, it isn't as simple as it sounds. It can take up to half an hour of repeatedly battling the same creature just to get their soul.However, there is an item that, although extremely expensive, makes the task of collecting souls much easier.

As with almost any RPG there is a leveling system, an assortment of weaponry,defensive gear, potions and ''mind ups'' (the equivalent to an ether in Final Fantasy -- restores MP). The bosses however are FAR too easy most of the time but they are extremely fun to fight, and I always found myself looking forward to the next encounter. For people who have played Symphony of the Night some of these fights will seem familiar, but nonetheless, still a minor challenge and still great entertainment.

In the graphics department, Aria of Sorrow does extremely well, even if it is just a Gameboy Advance game. Expect Symphony of the Night graphics with a little bit less detail.The psuedo-3D effects looked superb, gigantic enemies and bosses were extremely detailed and there was plenty of colors washed across the castle walls.

In conclusion, Aria of Sorrow is a game you should own, theres no doubt about it. This is the type of gaming that classics are made of, and you should do yourself the favor of at least renting it or borrowing it from one of your friends if you're wary of the $30 price tag.

THE PROS --
1) great soul-stealing system (lots of abilities and stat-up's come from stealing souls)
2) RPG elements (interesting equipment, leveling is fun and easy)
3) backgrounds are detailed and colorful (a great looking GBA game, even better with a Gameboy Player)
4) lots of replay value (get all of the weapons,endings,beat new modes, etc)

THE CONS --
1) a dippy, shallow main character
2) shoddy plot
3) soul-stealing sometimes takes a little too long
4) bosses were a little too easy


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/11/03, Updated 07/11/03


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